If fighting to keep hotels closed and its own members out-of-work wasn’t enough, Local 11 also fought against a potentially life-changing housing initiative at the height of the pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit, California needed a way to protect the countless homeless individuals in the state from contracting the potentially deadly virus — especially those who were elderly or at-risk. The solution was Project Roomkey — a program that aimed to “quickly shelter 15,000 of the oldest and most medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.” The project spurred the creation of Project Homekey — a second phase plan that funds “the conversion of hotels, motels and other properties into long-term homeless housing.”
Since its inception, Project Roomkey has placed over 20,000 homeless individuals into temporary housing. All the while, hotels were able to recoup some of the income they lost during the pandemic, and many local businesses were able to remain open. It seemed like a win-win, especially as coronavirus exacerbated California’s already urgent battle against homelessness. Project Homekey built on that success by providing longer term housing for those most at-risk.
But in a moment of need, Unite Here Local 11 wouldn’t get behind the plan.
In Long Beach last fall, a Holiday Inn was purchased by the County as one site that would be converted into long-term supportive housing for homeless individuals. In addition to supplying over 130 units of long-term housing, the site would provide “access to health and mental health services, diet, security and case management, along with other support services.”
Local 11 organizers protested the purchase of the hotel and wrote to the County opposing the plan. The union even filed a complaint against the hotel with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), determined to prove the converted hotel was violating COVID safety standards. But according to the latest LA County and state data, the property has not received any citations for lack of compliance with health and safety rules or any additional safety complaints since the sale was made final in late 2020.
If it was up to Governor Newsom, Project Roomkey would be here to stay. His budget included “$600 million for counties to purchase these hotels.” But if the union continues to fight the initiative, countless at-risk homeless individuals could be denied an opportunity that has already helped so many get back on their feet.